Internet speed to power: Weekly indicators show economy is picking up

Tracking indicators that appear with greater frequency gives a sense of the changing economic situation on the ground ahead than numbers put out later.
India’s economy was picking up when the government announced on Saturday a plan to ease a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Business Standard's analysis shows. 

Weekly economic indicators showed a rise in economic activity even in days leading up to the announcement, continuing a trend seen over the last few weeks as restrictions have slowly eased. 

The Indian Railways carried more goods and the internet speed held up—early signs about how an economy is doing. Business Standard tracks indicators because they appear with greater frequency than regular macroeconomic numbers like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or trade data. 

Tracking indicators that appear with greater frequency gives a sense of the changing economic situation on the ground ahead than numbers put out later. Chinese analysts tracked internet traffic during the worst days of the coronavirus outbreak in their country and others picked up the practice as a way of measuring how economies are doing while locked down. 

Power generation, pollution levels, and internet traffic in India is as of Friday, and railway data is as of Saturday. Google location data and internet load statistics appears with a lag. 

The railways carried 20.42 million tonnes of goods for the week ending Saturday. This is 15.1 per cent lower than the same period last year. It does show a marginal improvement over last week’s figures (which had been down 20.4 per cent). Freight earnings are down 27.2 per cent.

Median mobile download speed for the week ending May 24 is similar to speeds seen before the lockdown, in January and February, shows data from internet tracker Ookla. Fixed route median download speed is now less than three per cent lower than pre-lockdown days.

Vehicular traffic data from location tracker TomTom International shows that Delhi has been more active than Mumbai. Vehicular congestion is down 80.2 per cent in Mumbai between Monday and Friday. It declined 53.4 per cent in Delhi.

Nitrogen dioxide is emitted from vehicular and industrial activity. Their levels had dropped significantly in the lockdown. The gap had narrowed in recent weeks. The numbers show slight divergence once again.

Google location data shows visits to various places like grocery and pharmacy outlets, retail and recreation spots as well as workplaces. A seven-day rolling average shows that more people are increasingly stepping out of their homes. This data is as of May 25, and it has been showing a rising trend.

Electricity usage is another indicator of economic activity. Power generation had dropped by around a third over the same period last year during parts of the lockdown. This gap has dropped to under 10 per cent for the week ending Friday.

States will decide the extent of unlocking in their own territories, so future trends are expected to reflect more of a divergence.

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